The Montana deer population survey numbers for 2022 were published late last year and show that mule deer numbers are down, way down! There are a lot of factors to blame, starting with the largest culprit that has been proven by research in many Western states and that is drought. Research shows deer (does) that go into winter in poor shape, with minimal body fat in dry years, have much lower fawn health and birth rates in the spring of the next year. 2020-2022 were very dry years in the eastern half of the state and forage in the fall of 2021 was especially poor when I hunted there. Trophy quality also seemed to be hurt by the drought. In 2022 population counts showed 58,000 mule deer in Region 7 which is down from 114,000 in 2020; that’s a 52% decrease!
Disease is also another factor and sure doesn’t help the situation; EHD, Blue Tongue, and CWD. All of these diseases have affected the eastern half of the state the last few years. CWD has been the one in the spotlight recently but there’s no proof that CWD has wiped out entire herds of deer in the West unless you consider how it has impacted state’s like Montana’s deer management policies.
Overhunting could also be a factor. Montana gained a lot of residents the last two years and if you don’t know, Montana is an opportunity state and is not managed for trophies. It’s managed for opportunity, hence the many general tag areas. Basically Montana is a, “If it’s brown, it’s down” kind of state and all of Regions 6 and 7 are either-sex, either species except for one district on the general tag. In addition there are thousands of antlerless tags available for each species in these regions as well.
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